By Marissa Jensen
Driving across Kansas in the midst of my first Rooster Road Trip, I allow my mind to wander, reflecting over the past four seasons and all that has changed. It’s exciting how new this world still feels, as we leave for my first non-resident hunt debut. On the same note, it’s hard to imagine this wasn’t a part of my life all along, as it encompasses who I am today. My early years were spent heavily in the outdoors. But hunting? Not a chance. With no interest, raised in a family that doesn’t hunt, and zero exposure living in a big city, I still look back amazed with the direction my life has taken.
Closing in on my thirtieth birthday was when the proverbial lightbulb moment occurred. The knowledge that I could harvest quality, clean game from the field while enjoying time spent in the outdoors changed everything. When approached this way, hunting just made sense. I was previously unaware of the connection between hunting and conservation and this spoke to my core as a woman who has always cared deeply for the environment.
I can recall the exact moment I stepped into a frost encrusted tallgrass prairie and the overwhelming feeling of awe I experienced; this section of public land available for anyone to explore. This is how I found my uplands. I set out to follow my bird dog, and I have never once looked back.
The uplands speak to me like no other place can, with each landscape providing new history and narratives. Through trial and error, every free moment has been spent in the field with my German shorthaired pointer. There are moments from the beginning that I look back on and shake my head, wondering what I was thinking. But we all start somewhere, or we don’t start at all.
In 2018, Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever’s Women on the Wing Initiative officially kicked off in response to the rapid interest and engagement among women conservationists, women that wanted to learn more, like me. Much like our organization, the Women on the Wing initiative was developed from the ground up.
Transitioning into my role as the Education & Outreach Program Manager, I have the remarkable opportunity to lead this new initiative and come full circle with my passion, to give back to those who once stood in my shoes, wanting to learn but not knowing where to turn.
Likewise, I am humbled to follow in the footsteps of so many women who built the foundation for my new career path. From my colleagues within our organization to the trail breaking women across the uplands, I am honored to help share their stories and excited to help create a new generation of uplander stories like mine.
Through the Women on the Wing initiative, we’ve created four main priorities: Conservation Outreach, Women, Wine & Wild Game socials, Women on the Wing Chapters, and Women’s Recruit, Retain and Reactivation (R3) events. The vision of the initiative is simple: To expand and diversify those who hold an appreciation for the uplands, and to increase the opportunities to share our passion with others.
Our Women on the Wing initiative helps provide an opportunity for women to learn about the beauty of the uplands on an early morning, to witness the joy of following a beloved bird dog through the field and the rush of a rooster or covey flush. To experience wildlife on their property as they work to improve habitat on their ground. We are excited to provide support for these women so they can find their own unique place in the uplands and our organization.
The future of upland hunting is dependent on a diverse audience, and women are a critical component of that. Currently, women make up approximately 11 percent of overall hunter participants. However, women are the fastest-growing hunting demographic, and we look forward to providing an opportunity and support to grow these hunter-conservationists.
Over the past four years, I’ve met many individuals along the way, and I find myself fortunate enough to now call them friends. I wish I had known them earlier, to help show me the way. At the same time, I wouldn’t change my path for anything, knowing that it was part of my story and made me who I am today.
Now, as a mentor, I can take part in the memories of future hunters, to be a page in their history as conservationists, helping them write their story. Knowing that if we all come together to do our part, we can continue to preserve hunting and wild places for generations to come.
The uplands have changed my life in the most profound way, knowing that with every box of ammo purchased, every hike taken with my bird dog, every healthy, delicious meal brought home from the field for my son to enjoy, I’m contributing to the health and conservation of these wild places.
These are the stories we must share through Women on the Wing and in our larger role as hunter-conservationists, encouraging others to take part in the uplands for themselves. We can all play a larger part in protecting these wild places so that others can build their memories on the land we walked before them.
Women on the Wing and the future of upland hunting for more information on the Women on the Wing initiative, contact: Marissa Jensen, Education & Outreach Program Manager at firstname.lastname@example.org